A recent report in the media mentions how the number of claims of medical negligence has gone alarmingly high in the country. In fact, a study conducted by advocate, Mahendra Kumar Bajpai- a leading authority on medical law shows that the number of such cases go up by 110% every year in India.

As per Bajpai, 90% of all medical negligence cases involve hospitals and also 12% of all the cases decided by consumer court are on medical negligence. He said that between 60 to 66% of the filed cases are due to hospitals not obtaining proper consent documents from relatives prior to certain procedures or switching hospital. There is also the issue of improper documentation throughout the course of diagnosis and treatment.

According to him, all such problems stem from a lack of awareness among doctors.

As per Bajpai, dealing with medico-legal issues should be taught to medical students. In his own words, “Students are taught about ethics and morality. Surprisingly, there is not even a single chapter in their curriculum about law pertaining to medicine. Doctors confuse between ethics and law. They take Hippocratic oath, which is ethical part. Every MBBS student should be aware of Medical Council of India (MCI) Regulations, 2002, that directly talks about the legal part. There is a serious need to introduce it in the curriculum.”

Bajpai revealed that while 90% of all medical negligence cases involve hospitals, just 20 years ago, that figure was just 50%.

What the doctor can do to prevent a negligence claim from arising

Get informed consent

Patient consent is one area where the doctor has to be careful at. You should ensure that the patient has given his/her consent to the procedure. Make sure that the patient has a complete understanding of all the risks involved in the procedure.

These things should be verbally communicated to the patient before a procedure. Also, this information must be included in the written consent form which the patient signs. The patient should get a good explanation about the form’s purpose.

Avoid faulty communication

Open communication is something that ought to be practiced actively. When patients get the feeling that the doctors care genuinely and have nothing but their best interests in mind, they would be more forgiving of inadvertent errors.

While a poor outcome to the treatment in itself may not result in a claim of medical negligence a poor outcome and poor communication is a combination that could land the doctor in trouble. You shouldn’t be lethargic about addressing complaints and the expectations that you set for the patient and the family members should be realistic.

Stay updated in standards and training

One possible issue in litigation concerning a negligence claim is whether the doctor has followed current standards of practice or whether s/he treated the patient based on an outdated standard.
A busy practitioner may not get enough time to keep in sync with all the current developments. This shouldn’t be a reason that gets you in trouble. Also, when it comes to electronic health records which more hospitals are using, you should get proper training in the systems since retention of the communications relevant to treatment(like computer-based pharmaceutical ordering) is a necessity.

Follow-up on diagnostic tests and specialist referrals

In certain instances test results aren’t received by the ordering physician. And there are those cases in which the patients don’t follow through with the tests as directed. Or maybe the results do come in but are filed away before a physician can review them and so the patient doesn’t get briefed about the findings.

If the results which show that a patient need further testing or treatments are not addressed, they couldn’t get the required treatment.

Referrals to specialists is yet another aspect of care that could use with a better follow-up. The referring doctor’s office would do good to set a reminder regarding when the report can be expected. And if the report hasn’t been received within that time period, a follow-up should be done.

Know the relevant policies and procedures

The policies are procedures that you should follow in your practice shouldn’t be compromised. If need be, you may even keep them in a format that’s handy for you.

Avoid avoidance behavior

Even if the outcome of a procedure is bad, you shouldn’t avoid making the rounds in the presence of relatives. Simple things like making eye contact and letting them know how they feel could be considered as part of doctoring.

Disclaimer: The content provided here is for general information and is not meant as legal advice

   Send article as PDF